If my memory serves me correctly, the popular childhood refrain explains it all: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. That’s how it works, right? (Well, minus that baby carriage part. These days, babies show up wheneva, but that’s another topic.) It seems most people would agree that love is a prerequisite for marriage, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Historically, love was not that big of a deal. Often times it grew out of marriage, but wasn’t necessarily there before. Why is that? It’s simple, really. Marriage wasn’t about being with the one you love. It was about creating stable families and communities. Marriage was about protecting the collective, safeguarding the whole. They wanted to make sure the two would produce children and raise them to be productive citizens, thereby ensuring the future of society. Was it romantic? Not really. But did it work? Yep.
These days, things work pretty differently. The old, business-like model has given way to a heart-ruled approach that gives love and emotional connection top billing. Suddenly, marriage was exciting. It was more than just a fact of life. It was something we looked forward to, yearned for. The heart was running the show, and along with that came the poorly thought out decisions our hearts sometimes coax us into making.
Does that mean marrying for love is a bad idea? Of course not. I was thoroughly in love with my husband when we married, so I’d be a hypocrite if I said otherwise, but I also knew that love alone (as strong as it is) would not be enough to make our marriage successful. Love can make you better, but it can also make you foolish.
Love can make an honest and faithful person stay with a cheater. Love can make a kind-hearted man stay with a woman who is emotionally unstable. Love can make a woman repeatedly get pregnant by a lazy, jobless man. Love is just love. Like an immature child, it’s self centered and only considers itself. That’s why it feels so good, and that’s also why it can be so unstable.
There has to be something more. Couples have to know that even when they’re trapped in discontent, cut off from the peace and solace love usually provides, the marriage can still survive. There should be a deeper commitment, a bridge that carries you back to ease. Is a healthy bank statement enough to be that bridge? Probably not (rich people break up every day), but it is a huge help to at least know that the bills are paid and your belly is full, especially when you have children.
In regards to the question, “Which is more important?” I can’t give a straight forward answer. You could marry a wealthy jerk and end up divorced just as quickly as anyone else, but I will suggest that women in particular need to pay more attention to finances and not feel guilty because of it. No woman wants to be perceives as a gold digger, but often times this fear prevents us from asking the important questions that need to be addressed. In the same way that our debt and financial history is relevant, so is his. Does he have a savings account? Is there anything in it? Does he have any debt? If so, what kind? Does he have a 5-year financial plan? These are the types of questions a woman should be comfortable asking a man before marriage.
It’s not about finding the richest guy possible. It’s about making a thorough assessment of compatibility, one that does more than simply consider how in love you may be with a person. As women, we must constantly be aware of our wombs – that empty, life-giving space that we could soon find occupied, thanks to the men we let into our lives. And that occupant (God willing) will grow into a small person who will require lots of attention and resources. That’s money. That’s time. That’s attention, energy and love. We owe it to ourselves and our little future occupants to know there’s more to marriage than just love.
It’s hard work being a parent—even with a supportive co-parent. And without one, it kind of feels like Mission Impossible, except it’s not impossible. All over the country, millions of parents are doing their best to fill two pairs of shoes and to field the questions of inquisitive children who want to know where their other parent is.
Sometimes, parents die. That’s a special situation, but other times they simply choose not to be active in their children’s lives. Out of immaturity, irresponsibility, emotional hang-ups, addictive lifestyles, or plain old spite for you, some parents just don’t do their jobs, and it’s infuriating. Enough to make you want to cry. Enough to induce one of those old school temper tantrums, like falling-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming-until-a-big-snot-bubble-forms-on-your-nose kind of temper tantrum. But I don’t even have to tell you. You already know the feeling.
And to make things worse, here comes your beautiful, innocent little child, looking for answers. He wants to know why other kids have two parents while he only has one. He wants to know where his father is and why he isn’t around. These questions cut like a dagger to the heart, and if not handled correctly, they can cause a lot more emotional strife—for you and your child. But fear not. Follow these guidelines to make the best out of such a difficult situation.
DO NOT speak poorly of the parent in front of the child
Chances are, you child knows nothing about DNA, chromosomes and fertilized eggs. She doesn’t know the technical explanation of how she came to be, but she does know she’s half you and half him. That’s just something they can feel, and so regardless of if children actually know their other parent, they still identify with them. For that reason, you have to bite your tongue. If she hears you talk about how worthless her father is, she can’t help but to conclude that part of her is worthless too.
DO be as honest as is appropriate for your child’s age
There’s no need to create fairy tale stories that cast the parent in a positive but completely unrealistic light (i.e. “Your father is a superhero who saves people all across the world”). You can be honest without going into unnecessary detail. If your child asks where the parent is, it’s ok to tell them you don’t know or to tell them where the parent is. Just reinforce that the parent does love them. Try to be as upbeat and matter-of-fact as possible. If your child sees that you get upset every time they broach the subject, they won’t do it anymore. Then they’ll be left to draw their own conclusions about why the parent left. More often than not, they will conclude that it is their own fault. Don’t know what to say? Try something like, “I’m not sure where he is, but I know he loves you a lot. Hopefully he’ll be able to tell you that in person one day.”
DO NOT hold your child emotionally hostage
We’re meant to connect. We’re hardwired that way, and if we don’t have the proper people around to make those connections with, it is easy to make improper ones with our children, particularly our opposite-sex children. I get concerned when I hear mothers jokingly saying things like, “I don’t need a man. I’ve already got my little man right here.” Your child is not a surrogate partner. He isn’t there to “fill you up” or make you happy (though children do make us parents quite happy). That’s a lot on a little guy to be emotionally responsible for his parent, to feel like he has to make her happy because no one else is there to do it. You are the adult, the responsible party, not him. Genuine happiness comes from within. You need to be able to create and maintain your own happiness so your child is free to do the same.
If you’re having a particularly hard day, don’t make your child feel guilty by saying things like, “It’s just you and me. You’re all mama has.” That puts the weight of the world on their little shoulders. If they notice you are sad and ask why, give an answer that allows them to stay in a child’s role. Say something like, “I’m just having a frustrating day. That happens sometimes, but it’s okay. I just need to relax a little and I’ll be good as new!” Even if that’s not 100% true, you should still get the message across that “mommy is going to be okay and this isn’t your problem to fix.” One day in the distant future, your child will need to detach and form his own family. Children who have been held emotionally hostage have a challenging time doing that.
DO give your child the space to express his feelings, good or bad
If children (and people in general) aren’t able to express themselves constructively, they most certainly will do it destructively. Of course you want the former. In an attempt to protect our children from sadness, anger and disappointment, we sometimes find it easier and less awkward to avoid the topic all together. That only makes it easier for you, not the child. Take advantage of natural opportunities to talk to your child about how they feel about the missing parent. If he says something like, “Jimmy’s dad came to school today and talked to the class. It was cool,” use that as a way in. Say something like, “Oh, really? That is cool. Does it bother you that your dad isn’t here to do things like that?” When your child sees that you’re comfortable talking about it, they will be more likely to bring it up on their own whenever they feel the need.
DO NOT discourage or be offended by your child’s loyalty to the other parent
You changed all the diapers. You buy all the food. You wipe all the tears. Yet and still, she loves HIM. What’s up with that? Human nature is what’s up with that. The bond between parent and child is amazingly strong and can’t be quantified or even fully explained, so the lack of physical presence doesn’t erase the connection.
Don’t take it personally if your upset child says something like, “I don’t love you! I love daddy!” They don’t mean it. That’s just their way of protecting that connection. Don’t get baited into an emotionally charged, “Well, your ignorant daddy is nowhere to be found,” kind of response. Stay calm and say, “Well, I still love you, and I’m glad you love your daddy.” Then go in your room and have a good cry if need be.
You also shouldn’t be offended if your child tells their friends that the new shoes you worked overtime to pay for are a gift from the other parent. Again, that’s their way of holding tight to that connection. Just let them know it isn’t good to lie, and don’t waste your time worrying about where Billy from across the street thinks your child’s shoes came from.
DO use family and friends as a support system
The other parent may be absent, but good friends and family are always willing to be there for you. They love you, so they will be willing to help out in any way they can. No one wants to feel like a charity case, but don’t turn down the help of those who offer with a sincere heart. (Note: Do beware of people who have ulterior motives and only offer help as an excuse to get in your business.)
Happy children have happy parents, and happy parents use all the resources at their disposal. Upset because your child’s father said he’d do something and didn’t come through—again? Don’t tell your child how mad you are. Tell your family or friends. Vent to them all you want, knowing that the things you say won’t be hurting your child’s sense of self.
DO NOT try to overcompensate for the absent parent
It hurts us to see our children sad. We want their childhoods to be full of laughter and smiles, not tears and disappointment. The undeniable truth, though, is that tears and disappointment are a part of life. They make us stronger, teach us life lessons, and add to our wisdom, so don’t allow yourself to become the super lax parent who only wants to be a friend. Rules and consequences are an integral part of raising well-adjusted, responsible children. No one wants to end up with a brat who cannot handle disappointment and thinks the world revolves around him. That’s not even cute at 5, and it sure ain’t cute at 18! Be stern with your children. They will thank you later.
DO examine your relationship history
This doesn’t relate directly to your children, but it will affect your ability to pick a good mate in the future. They say hindsight is 20/20, so things probably look so much clearer now than they did when you were in the relationship. Did you take the time to get to know the person well enough before you had a child with them? Did you ignore signs that suggested this wasn’t a good person to have a baby with? Do you have a pattern of getting into relationships with the same type of people? Answering these questions can help prevent you from repeating history in your next relationship.
Back in the day, men had to ask a woman’s father for her hand in marriage, but now that’s considered old fashioned and unnecessary. These days, some men aren’t even meeting the fathers until the wedding rehearsal. “Ask for my hand? For what? What am I, a piece a property? So I’m not capable of giving my own hand?” This is the response many men would be hit with if they even suggested talking to a woman’s father first. And that’s part of why things have gotten so bad.
I was completely capable of “giving my own hand” if I chose, but still my father had a talk with my husband before we married. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Listen here, boy. F_ _ _ up and see what happens. I’m from the streets, son. Jersey all day!” Ok, so that was a bit of a stretch. I’m sure my father said nothing like that, but he did make it clear that there were certain standards he’d have to live up to if he wanted to marry his daughter.
It wasn’t about passing ownership from one pair of male hands to the next. It was about a man being held accountable by another man. In the same way that women find it easier and best to talk to other women about issues of femininity, men should approach other men on issues of masculinity and manhood. Women shouldn’t have to yell, “Treat us better!” “Stop beating us!” Stop abandoning us with your children!” Those messages should come from other men– fathers, uncles, brothers, sons and friends (or even a random man on the street who witnessed some foolishness and couldn’t help but to get involved).
A woman knows if another woman is up to no good, and so does a man. That’s why fathers need to be the intercessors. You might be fooled by a nice smile and a smooth baritone voice (and so might your mother), but your father won’t. You might be captivated by his cologne and conversation, but your father is immune. He has been taking care of you his entire life, doing everything he can to make sure you are safe and happy, so he’ll be damned if he’s going to let another man come into your life and ruin all the work he’s done. No sir. Not today. Not on his watch.
That is what fathers are for.
Let’s be clear. This is not to discount the work or importance of mothers. Mother’s are absolutely essential, but this is an area where a father (not necessarily biological) needs to be present. When a woman gets in a serious relationship with a man, she’s not just agreeing to be his companion, she is agreeing to let him be the father of any children they may have. She is agreeing to allow him to be the leader of whatever family they may create. She is agreeing to be the mother of any offspring he may produce. That’s a big deal, a super big deal, one you shouldn’t be making by yourself.
Love is great, but it isn’t always logical. In fact, it can be downright crazy. Think of all the people that stay in bad relationships because they can’t bring themselves to leave. (Perhaps you’re thinking of yourself right now.) Think of all the people that are so attached to the “loves of their lives” that they put up with horrible treatment. Love actually makes it harder to judge a person’s worthiness. It fills the air with a sweet-smelling fog that makes it difficult to see what’s in front of you.
Ladies, we need to turn down the Destiny’s Child long enough to realize that we do not have to exist in this world completely by ourselves. We’ve been convinced that we have to have our own everything, even our own backs. Well, that just isn’t possible. If your back is going to be covered (and we can probably all agree that it should be), it has to be done by someone else. There is no way around that. And since you’re dealing with a man–something you are not–why not have the cover of someone who is? Makes sense, don’t it?
Abstinence seems to be one of those topics everyone has a definite opinion on. To this day, I have yet to find anyone who has been on the fence. It’s always “Wait until you’re married,” or “You don’t have to wait til marriage, but you better use a condom!” Regardless of which of these statements rings true, we can all agree that they’re both better than not saying anything, can’t we? (Waiting for you to nod your head.)
Yes, I know this is the new millennium and we have a black, Al Green-singing president, but there are still those who believe in good old fashioned abstinence. In fact, there are a lot more than you would guess, but many shy away from taking that route for fear of setting their children up for failure.
You’ve heard the argument: Abstinence doesn’t work. “While you’re out here selling abstinence and promise rings, kids are busy getting pregnant and contracting diseases.” That’s what many say–and there is some definite truth to that statement–but that doesn’t make the message of abstinence ineffective. It makes the delivery method ineffective. And that’s why I’m here, to offer a method that goes far beyond repeating “Wait til you get married!”
1.) Make it seem realistic- Talk about setting your kids up for failure. Many parents do just that by saying things like, “Well, you know you should wait until you’re married, but that isn’t exactly realistic, so I just want you to be smart and make good decisions.” You might as well say, “Abstinence sounds cool, but ain’t nobody doing that mess. You feel me!” (High-fives exchanged.) Ok, so you probably wouldn’t high-five, but you get my point.
Your children need to know that, regardless of what everyone else is saying and doing, they CAN abstain, and it doesn’t even have to be that hard. If you waited, share that with them. Even if you didn’t, let them know that there are many people who are. Don’t focus on how hard it is (because that sets it up in there mind as unrealistic). Instead, focus on how doable it is.
2.) Monitor their exposure- These days, sexual images are everywhere (and I mean everywhere). It makes it hard for you to talk to your children about abstinence when everything else around them is pushing “sex, sex, sex!” Turn the TV off, turn the radio off, and be aware of who is around your children and what they’re talking about. Of course, you can’t raise your children in a bubble. They’re going to be exposed to and influenced by others, but you have to do your best to control the images and ideas they get about sex because they will definitely influence future behavior.
3.) Don’t make sex the enemy- Sometimes, in an attempt to steer their children away from premarital sex, parents make it seem like it is the worst things on earth. (“Sex is a big sin you will be punished for… PUNISHED, I say! PUNISHED!”) This will only do one of two things:
-create an unhealthy complex about sex that can last well into their adult, married life
-make them uncomfortable about topic, which means they won’t talk to you about it at all.
Give them the real deal. Let them know sex is wonderful, but that it is a big responsibility that should only be done under certain circumstances. The more comfortable you are talking about it, the more comfortable they will be coming to you with any questions they may have (and that’s what we want, isn’t it? For our kids to come to us about sex instead of the girl that sits next to them in math class.)
4.) Give them the HOW- This is a biggie. If you do all the other steps wonderfully but skip this one, you probably won’t be successful. Saying “don’t have sex” does not teach them how not to. If you are serious about what you’re saying, you will have to let them know how to behave. No, they can’t listen to the same songs as everyone else. No, they can’t watch the same movies and shows as everyone else. No, they can’t date. (Yea, I said it.) A main reason this approach doesn’t work is because even though the message is being sent, the children (teens) are still allowed to engage in behaviors that encourage sexual activity. You can’t tell your son, “Sure, you can kiss that girl, but that’s it. Don’t you do a thing else, and I mean it!” Come on, now. Who ever stopped at just kissing, and if you did, how easy was it? Let’s be real. Kissing ain’t nothing but foreplay.
I am a firm believer in the necessity of balance, so I wouldn’t be here suggesting you tell your kids no to so many things without suggesting you say yes to something else. People thrive best when they have options, so that’s what I’m about. While I won’t allow my children to listen to most music or watch most shows, I will go out of my way to find music and shows that I feel are appropriate. While I won’t let them date, I will make sure they are able to socially engage other people in their age group, both male and female. I would hate for them to grow up feeling deprived. Those are often the feelings of sheltered kids who hit college and go crazy. I’d rather they grow up feeling informed and guided.
*This is the fourth and final installment in the What They Should Know series. Click here to read the third installment.*
Boys, boys, boys,
You little guys sure do keep us parents on our toes. You’ve got the type of energy companies wish they could bottle and sell. Shoot, I wish I could bottle and sell it! That would be a money maker for sure.
I have to apologize for some of the things you’ve been told. You’ve probably already heard the sayings, ” Stop crying. Be a man” and “Stop being a girl.” They give the impression that in order to be accepted and liked, in order to be a real man, you have to be hard and without emotion, and you absolutely CANNOT–under any circumstances– be a girl (i.e. weak).
Well, take it from me, girls are not weak and neither are you. It is literally in your DNA to be strong. That’s not a metaphor. I’m being serious here. I’m talking straight up fact. As you get older and develop, you’ll see just what I mean, but for now you’ll just have to trust me.
The common representation of masculinity (look it up if you don’t understand that word) is all wrong. It focuses on the look of manliness. It tells you to be big, bad and rough, just to make sure there’s no confusion. That’s not what it means to be a man. Real men don’t use their strength to hurt others; they use it to protect. And real men understand that taking the time to build their mental muscles is just as important as building their physical ones.
Your going to come across a lot of ideas in your life, and many of them will be silly, dangerous and flat-out wrong. You’ll need to be intelligent enough to avoid those. So many young boys get off to a bad start because they follow in the footsteps of men who never fully developed. Sure, they may look like adults, but on the inside they’re no wiser than you. Is that what you want, to grow up and still have the mind of a child? Of course you don’t, and you won’t. You know better.
There may be some boys at your school who say doing your work and being smart isn’t cool. Those boys are wrong. Like, really, really wrong. If I had to take a guess, I’d say those boys don’t feel smart themselves, and so they’re trying to make you feel as badly as they do. Don’t fall for it, because in the real world, the so-called nerds are the ones making all the moves (and money).
So keep getting (or start getting) those A’s and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for it. The future adult in you will thank you for it later. But for now, you’re a little boy. You probably like worms and race cars, and you might think girls are a little… weird. That’s fine, as long as you know they’re not weak, and neither are you.
*This is the third installment in the What They Should Know series. Click here to read the final installment, On What They Should Know: A Message to Young Boys. Click here to read the second installment.*
You thought I forgot about you, didn’t you? You saw all the writing I do for and about women and figured I must not have much to say to you. WRONG. Come on over here. Let’s chat a while.
I know there are challenges to being a young man. You get contradictory messages that encourage you to be one way and then punish you for following instructions. You’re told, on one hand, “Hey, you’re young and you’re a guy. You’re SUPPOSED to be immature, irresponsible and oversexed. Anything less would be uncivilized.” On the other hand, you’re called a deadbeat and a loser when you walk in the shoes that have been laid out for you. It’s no secret; you’ve been set up to fail.
That’s why you’ve got to think for yourself and be the amazing man God made you to be, not the distraction you can so easily become. You see, when a man isn’t good to himself, he is distracted from developing his mind, his talents and abilities. When he isn’t good to his wife, he distracts her from carrying happiness in her heart and sharing that happiness with others. When he isn’t good to his children, he distracts them from being confident and aware of the potential they possess. I’ll admit, there is a lot of responsibility laid on your back, but that’s what you’ve got those big, broad shoulders for.
I hate (and I mean truly hate) to see young men wasting their lives on partying and girl chasing. When I see it, it bothers me–to the point where I want to shake you! Not a cute, loving little shake, but the strongest, head-bobbling shake my weak little arms can muster. And while I’m shaking, I want to yell, “Do you know what you’re capable of? Don’t you know you could be an attentive husband, an involved father, a generous boss or a promising employee? Don’t you know you’re so much better than this?” Obviously, women aren’t the only ones who can waste their treasures.
People seem to have such high expectations for women, but men are allowed to do and be whatever. Sorry, buddy, but I can’t accept that, especially now that I have a son. I’ll hold him to the same high standard I hold you to, and I’ll remind him of the strength that he possesses. Not the physical strength (though there is importance there too) but the mental and spiritual strength that allows you all to be natural leaders. But really, my standards don’t matter much. It’s your own that make all the difference.
My father set the bar high, so I never fell for that “men ain’t sh_t” mess. It just doesn’t fit in my world. I pray it doesn’t fit in yours either. I pray you don’t drink the “men are supposed to be immature and selfish” Kool-Aid. That stuff is no good. Causes cavities, and a distorted image of self. Hopefully you have a father guiding you in the right direction, but if you don’t, you are still capable. Locked within you, perhaps beneath some anger and sadness, is a light that shines brighter than you could ever imagine. It is more than strong enough to warm your heart and your hands, so never think you are left out in the cold. It is magical and ordinary, resilient and fragile.
*This is the second installment in the What They Should Know series. Click here to read the third, On What They Should Know: A Message to Young Men. Click here to read the first installment.*
Hey beautiful babies,
I want you to know that it’s okay to live your life in “play.” No need to press fast-forward. When you get older, you’ll discover that there is no rewind button, so don’t rush. Ask an adult. They’ll tell you how much they wish they could go back to your age, back when they had no worries, no bills and no job to report to. Childhood is a vacation that gets your ready for adulthood. Enjoy it.
Don’t look to the shows on Nickelodeon, and Disney Channel (and TV in general) to understand who and how you should be. Look to the people that love you most: your parents and family. They are the ones that know you are absolutely enough just as you are–without the makeup, without the grown hair styles, without the high heels and skinny jeans and, most definitely, without the padded bikinis.
Right now, you’re a little girl, probably with missing teeth, chubby cheeks and a messy ponytail that you hate to get combed. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more that okay. It’s what you are supposed to be. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
It is NOT your job to try to look older, or to get boys to like you, or to fit in with the mean girls at school. Your job is to LEARN as much as you can so you can grow up to be smart, well-rounded and cool. Yes, I said cool. That’s important too, you know. Not because you’ll need to try to impress other people, but because you’ll be a woman–the coolest creature on earth!
I must warn you though. You’ll probably come across some people who will try to convince you that women and girls aren’t super cool. They’ll try to make you believe that your only purpose is to be pretty. They’ll tell you you’re not intelligent, that your opinion doesn’t matter and that you better do everything you can think of to make men like you. Can you believe that foolishness? I sure can’t.
Good thing you know better. You know that girls are just as smart as boys and that your cute little face is not your most important feature. What is your most important feature, you ask? Well, duhhh! It’s that kind heart and sharp mind of yours. That’s what really matters, far more that lip gloss and nail polish (even though those are fun too).
You see, when a girl is smart, she’ll be a smart woman. When is woman is smart, she’ll have smart children. When children are smart, they’ll grow into smart adults. And those smart adults will go on to have more smart children… It creates a wonderful cycle. So you, my dear, contribute to the education of the entire world. Cool, huh?
Oh, and as far as men liking you when you get older, the good ones will like you automatically, just because you are you. But no need to worry about any of that now. For now, you’re your mother’s inspiration, your father’s joy, and you are absolutely awesome just the way you are!